MERCER – A jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of a Youngstown woman accused of selling drugs that resulted in the June 2019 accidental overdose death of a 32-year-old Coolspring Township woman.
Nicoletta Michelle Robinson, 34, was charged by state police with drug delivery resulting in death, aggravated assault, criminal use of a communication facility, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, assault, and reckless endangerment for her alleged role in the death of Margaret McConnell.
“This is a crime of opportunity and tragedy caused by the defendant,” Mercer County Assistant District Attorney Shane Crevar said in his opening statement to the jury. “The victim was in pain and was addicted and the defendant knew that.”
Crevar said McConnell called Diva Service LLC, a Youngstown-based taxi service, and had the owner, Robinson, drive her around June 16 and 17, 2019, just days before her death. He said McConnell was in pain because she had been suffering from Crohn’s disease since she was a child. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease.
While staying at her father’s home, the victim wrote two of her father’s checks without his permission for drugs and rides to the Diva Services for $100 and $165, Crevar said. McConnell was found dead in her home June 23.
Crevar said the defendant sold the painkiller methadone to McConnell. He said a search of McConnell’s phone showed that she searched online to learn the side effects of methadone and how much she should take.
Crevar told the jury he has witnesses who will testify that toxicology tests show that McConnell had a high level of methadone in her system and that she died of an overdose.
But defense attorney Stanley T. Booker said that is not possible.
“What the evidence will show is Margaret McConnell had Crohn’s disease, a very serious condition,” Booker told the jury. “It’s clear that methadone did not cause her death.”
Booker told the jury that he will put an expert on the stand who will testify that because McConnell’s body was found six days after her death, it is impossible to know the level of methadone in her body. He said no autopsy was done.
Booker outlined time that McConnell spent in the hospital in the days leading to her death. He said medical records show McConnell’s health deteriorated from about a week until her death. He said McConnell left the hospital against the doctor’s recommendation.
“The doctor said he was very concerned that she could die,” Booker said. “On the day she died.”
Witnesses who testified Tuesday for the commonwealth included McConnell’s father, Richard McConnell, Mercer County Chief Deputy Coroner Robert L. Snyder, and a Pennsylvania State Police digital forensic examiner, Laura Taylor.
The commonwealth is expected to put more witnesses on the stand Wednesday and Thursday, including Dr. Eric Vey, a forensic pathologist in Erie. The defense is expected to have at least one expert witness to testify to toxicology results.
Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker said this trial is the first since mid-November, when this case was to be tried but not enough people came to be able to form a complete jury.
“We’re very pleased we had sufficient jurors show up,” Acker said. “Next month we’ll return to something close to a semblance of normal with hopefully more jury trials.”
Acker also said that defendants’ opportunities to strike deals is rapidly expiring.
“Defense attorneys tell their clients if you had a case ... plead now and you have an excellent chance of house arrest,” Acker said. “Once the jail situation improves, those incentives aren’t going to be there.”
Acker declined to comment on the ongoing trial of Robinson. Testimony continues Wednesday, and the trial is expected to finish on Thursday
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